5 Financial Red Flags For Couples

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- You meet what seems like the perfect guy or gal. You are in love and ready for a commitment -- marriage, buying a home together, perhaps starting a family.

But something is not quite right. There are suspicious phone calls, with "wrong number" and "work related" offered as unconvincing explanations. Unfamiliar phone numbers are scattered in a cell phone's missed-calls log. Your partner appears way too eager to be the first one to the mailbox. Innocently peek inside their purse or wallet and the response is a snippy mix of defensiveness and sheepishness.

Financial disputes can be hard on a relationship, but honest differences are one thing and deception from your partner is quite another.

Are they cheating on you? Maybe. But it is also possible the "other" man or woman is a bill collector.

Financial disputes can be hard on a relationship. When a penny-pincher and a shopping addict pair up, their monetary mindsets are sure to clash. Opposites may attract, but money differences can be a deal-breaker. Recognizing the early warning signs of financial incompatibility can, at the very least, force a needed dialogue and keep your good credit from being dragged through the mud once your money matters are commingled.

An online poll of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education in December found that 31% of people who combined finances with their significant other have been deceptive about money.

Nearly three in five of these folks say they hid cash from their partner or spouse; 54% hid a minor purchase; 30% hid a statement or a bill; and 34% said they lied about finances, debt or money earned. Nearly 20% of this group said "financial deception" led them to separate combined finances and 16% said it ultimately resulted in divorce.

Women were more likely than men to say their partner or spouse lied to them about finances, debt or money earned (65% vs. 47%).

"Couples should talk openly about money, and do so early in the relationship," says Ted Beck, president and CEO of the endowment. "Each person should understand their partner's values about money. In doing so, they have a better chance to build a more stable relationship, both emotionally and financially."

But where such honest dialogue is lacking, a variety of red flags may signal trouble ahead for your relationship. Some of those you may see waving:

1. Keeping a 'secret' post office box or hiding mail
Your significant other may be trying to hide serious debts and foolish credit card charges alike from your prying eyes. If the sight of the mailman sets off a fear reflex, they may be dreading the moment you see one of those "PAST DUE" envelopes, correspondence with a collection agency or threat of legal action.

2. Dodging questions about their financial history/credit rating
Marriage brings with it the union of all things financial, including credit ratings. For many couples, that poses no problem and it's accepted that the good and bad will average out to a happy (and hopefully still creditworthy) equilibrium. If the mere effort to discuss your partner's financial background hits a nerve, though, their reluctance probably confirms your suspicions.

3. Letting you pay for everything
We all seem to have a friend who manages to disappear to the restaurant restroom every time the check comes, or who goes full-on ninja invisible when it is his/her turn to buy a round. If your partner is that person, don't assume they are merely a cheapskate. It could be an indication that they can't afford even a simple night out, and that could suggest damaging debt.

Are you always footing the bill for the other person, and covering for them in what seems like never-ending "tough times"? If they are unemployed, or fighting to stay on top of a killer student loan, so be it. But if there is no offered explanation, be wary.

4. Continual use of your credit card
Is it your credit card that always gets tapped when your boyfriend or girlfriend orders off Amazon ( AMZN)? When you are shopping, is there always an excuse for why he or she has to "borrow" your card ("Oops, I left mine at home again"). It may very well mean that your partner's cards are either maxed out or they fear being "rejected" at the register while you look on. Couples may live by the mantra of "share and share alike," but having only one half that does all the sharing is a bad omen.

Be especially wary if your partner frequently pulls your credit card (or cash) from your wallet without asking. Add to your concern if they fail to let you know they did so until after the bill comes in. They probably don't view it as stealing, and neither should you, necessarily. But the action does reveal a potentially fast, loose and unrestrained attitude toward spending (especially when it is other people's money).

5. Blaming everyone but themselves
Taking responsibility is crucial for anyone looking to fix financial blunders. Be wary if your loved one blames everyone but themselves for "mistakes."

The late credit card payment? It was sent in on time, so of course it must have been lost in the mail. That mountainous credit card debt? A thieving roommate or hard-luck relative is to blame. The low credit score? Obviously a computer error. That collection agency that called? Liars! I paid that off years ago!

Errors certainly do happen, and people do sometimes have to fight to restore their good name and credit. But when excuses proliferate with every bill, one might be advised to call the bluff.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

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